Award-winning local author Bridget Canning’s new novel The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes asks what it means to be a hero in the new millennium.
Canning has won the Cox and Palmer SPARKS Creative Writing Award, the BC Federation of Writers Literary Writes Competition and has been shortlisted for the Cuffer Prize. Her debut novel, The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes, was published by Breakwater Books this spring.
Canning’s book is set in St. John’s in the very recent past, her protagonist, Wanda Jaynes, is an Adult Basic Education (ABE) teacher who is facing unemployment since the government has decided to privatize the ABE program. Early in the novel she finds herself in a supermarket when a lone gunman begins murdering people.
Wanda comes face to face with the shooter and instinct takes over, without realizing what she’s doing she knocks him unconscious with a tin. A video of the event goes viral and Wanda becomes overwhelmed by the pressure of being framed as a hero by media and the public.
The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes begins with a bang but overall the book is more driven by character than plot. While there are subplots, including a potentially unfaithful lover and a mysterious Internet stalker, that give the story momentum the book is really a thorough investigation of who Wanda is and whether she meets the qualifications of heroism.
In an earlier interview with The Overcast, Canning described the themes she wanted to explore in the novel saying, “What does it mean to do something heroic? What does is mean to do something good? To do something that combats stupidity in its many different forms?”
The book tackles those timeless questions about heroism along with ones that are very specific to our current, social-media-soaked-reality. Like, if footage of your “heroic act” resonates with people all over the world, as evidenced by likes and re-tweets, who are you to deem it unworthy of accolades?
As much as the book is about how our own stories can spin wildly out of our control in the age of the internet, it is also very much about contemporary St. John’s. Wanda lives near the Rennies’ River Trail, goes for drinks at The Duke and The Ship, and drives out of town for a summer barbeque in a rolling backyard in Torbay.
One of the triumphs of this novel is how precisely Canning captures the city, in all its glory and grubbiness. The suffocation of being constantly recognized is magnified by the fact that Wanda lives in a small town where people are thrilled to lay claim to any kind of hero, certified or not.